I have often heard this story used to exhort people to give money sacrificially. However, I thought you all might be interested in an alternate interpretation my professor taught us in seminary that makes more sense out of the text to me.
Read the last bit of Luke 20 and beginning of Luke 21 without any chapter divisions or verse numbers and I think the story flows much better.
Excerpt from Luke 20-21:
While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
So, here is the scene. Jesus has just rebuked the teachers of the law for ‘devouring widows houses’. Now He turns - right then - and sees a poor widow giving - not just sacrificially - but literally all the money she had left to live on. Nowhere does Jesus actually commend this woman or say that her story has a happy ending. He just says that she has given more proportionally than the rich people. But he is rebuking the teachers of the law for devouring widows houses.
Does this story look more like sacrificial giving on the part of the widow or highway robbery on the part of the teachers of the law / temple priests??? What are your thoughts? Is the widow the hero, the victim or a bit of both?